“Do you like puzzles, Sophie?”
She didn’t immediately answer. She just stood with her fists at her sides staring hatefully at this ancient woman–if she could even be said to be human at all–who had taken so much from her, and she imagined all the things she’d do to her if she ever got the chance. Did Madame Catherina still have blood in her veins? Even if she did, she didn’t have enough to quench Sophie’s thirst for vengeance. There could never be enough.
Madame was unphased. “I only ask,” she continued, her voice as thin and light as gold foil, “because you seem to be at the center of one which I just can’t seem to solve.”
Sophie spat on the floor and a guard moved toward her, but Madame halted him with a microgesture. Sophie narrowed her dark eyes and ground her teeth. “I’ll never help you. Never.” Her voice wavered between a whisper and an animal growl. “I’d rot to dust before I’d ever help you.”
Madame smiled with her lips, but her eyes remained deadly cold. “You misunderstand. This isn’t about helping me–ha! To think that you could do such a thing. No, no, no. This is a gift. I’m giving you your father back.”
Sophie tried to scream but her throat was locked. Hot salt pooled in her eyes.
“In fact, I’ve already freed him. Would you like to go to him? I have a shuttle ready. There’s just one thing…” Madame gave barely a nod and a guard opened the view panel.
The Labyrinth Moon of Al Niyat.
Some said it looked like a brain, or a cantaloupe, or coral, or a snake nest. Sophie saw only a winding, wandering trench of open graves. The alien architecture had a history of keeping all who touched it.
“Get inside the heart of the Labyrinth and bring me what you find. Or leave your father to stumble along on his own. As always, Sophie, the choice remains yours.” Now she smiled with her eyes. “Have I not been true to my word?”